By Keira Smith // @keiramunsmith
Wednesday, September 26: 2-0 Win
New York City Football Club clinched a spot in the MLS playoffs after a long-pined-for win against Chicago Fire on Wednesday night. Fans of NYCFC were desperate for 3 points after our face-plant of an August and September. For the record, I was cautiously optimistic before this game with the return of the majority of the squad, from various injuries and international call-ups.
There were a few changes to the lineup probably caused by the absence of Alexander Callens due to yellow card accumulation. James Sands started in an attacking center midfield role alongside Alex Ring who played a more defensive role. Despite both teams battle against the waterlogged field, causing more slipping and sliding than usual, Sands did a good job of looking to distribute long balls from the center of the field to the flanks. Not all passes were perfect with gravity having its way at times with Sands but the long balls opened up the field and shook up Chicago’s defense.
New York City kept to their old reliable theme of quick pass possession with Ebenezer Ofori working well offensively and defensively for the majority of the game – except for the very end. We had a number of missed and saved shots in the first half with four on target. Chicago Fire goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland, not a regular starter for the team did a good job defending the net.
At the 47th minute, the stalemate was broken by Ring after a quick combination of one-touch passes which went from Maxi Moralez to David Villa and then to Ring. In the 51st, David Villa put one in on a beautifully patient set up by Moralez. Moralez had been trying to set up his teammates the whole night with mixed success.
NYC held Chicago to 2-0 due to a few fantastic saves by Sean Johnson and featuring an exceptional defensive performance by Maxime Chanot.
A positive takeaway was the playing style of James Sands who was constantly pressuring the Fire’s developing offense and working to distribute the ball long and wide to the wings from the center. Were the distributions perfect? No, but multiple times it worked to propel the NYC attack forward from the congested middle of the field. Sands seems to have learned a lot from Alex Ring’s style of play.
In the first half, a lot of the initial New York City attack was generated down the left wing by long balls from the center midfield to Ronald Matarrita who worked tightly with Villa and Moralez. In the first 45 minutes, both Villa and Moralez seemed to be working to craft the “right” pass to dish to a teammate for a strong shot, rather than just taking the shot themselves. For many of our chances on goal, it seemed like that last pass or the actual shot was off a bit in its timing or pace.
The second half seemed to have more quick one-touches in Chicago’s box and it resulted in two goals. Was this a purposeful change in attacking strategy or just a coincidence? Either way, the win cemented NYCFC’s place in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Next up City faces Minnesota United at the notoriously poorly turfed TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, September 29th. The combination of questionable turf and a possible tweak to his previously injured abductor on Wednesday, likely means captain David Villa will be missing the match. Maxime Chanot may also be rested to prevent a re-injury of his abductor, according to coach Domènec Torrent.
Featured image of NYCFC supporter, Laud Amabley: @TishaGale
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